Yoshitoshi Kanemaki is a Japan based sculptor renowned for his bizarre yet lifelike wooden sculptures. We dive into his complex world that questions both mortality and temporality.
The first thought that hits you when you first run into Yoshitoshi Kanemaki’s sculptures is a sense of wonderment. How can someone create something so grotesque and yet so beautiful at the same time? And it is this dilemma that Kanemaki takes full advantage of. Born in Chiba, a Japanese prefecture, the forty-five year old sculptor has a degree in fine arts from Tama Art University and has been the recipient of several awards and accolades.
Kanemaki’s sculptures are often touted as bizarre and strange. And that is how he intends them to be. His primary agenda is to “stimulate people living in this age to understand and appreciate the importance of being alive.” Through this, he wants to push further and make people aware of their humanness and the transience of life.
Wood carving doesn’t adhere to only one kind of procedure or method. The craft and science have been around since time immemorial. The materials and tools are also confined to just a few types. Kanemaki uses camphor wood and chisels out giant-sized, life-sized as well as miniature sculptures that question mortality and are reflective of multiple personalities and perspectives.
While Kanemaki questions life and death, he understands and accepts that he may never get the answers he is looking for. One particular piece of his which is reflective of his learning is the multi-headed girl, titled TAYUTA. A close look at the different expressions on the multiple heads shows us the nonchalance we display towards the passage of time. And this is what Kanemaki wants to highlight – the ambivalence of that which is perceived to be mundane, but is really not.
Another series, titled Memento Mori also brings Kanemaki’s search for answers to the fore. Memento Mori is Latin for ‘remember you’re going to die’. Kanemaki’s sculpture highlights how life and death reside within the same body and how it is only a matter of perspective that makes you choose either one.
Kanemaki’s process of creation is fairly simple. He employs old Japanese methods when creating his pieces and in his own words, “merely pours time and questions” into the mix to create art. Before getting down to working with the block of wood, Kanemaki sketches the figure he wants to carve out either onto sheets of paper or he directly traces them onto the block of camphor wood. From here on begins the arduous task creating the final piece.
He chisels forms and morphs the characters he wants to depict, usually two or more, onto life-sized blocks. He skillfully hand-carves figurines in various positions and postures before painting them in a palette of colours that complement and highlight his intention behind creating the sculpture.
Kanemaki says the “irregular shape that deviates from human form” adds another dimension – both philosophical and artistic – to the way the sculpture is perceived. “It could be you,” he says. And that is what makes his art so compelling and intriguing even though their morbidity is jarring at first glance.
Kanemaki employs various glitches and abnormalities in his art. Right from multiple heads and metaphorical representation of body parts to varied expressions – each conveying an array of emotions that is quite commonplace, and yet when seen in such an absurd form, makes one think and on rare occasions, even confront their inner existential turmoil.
An artist’s inspiration is subjective, almost personal at times. For Kanemaki, sometimes inspiration strikes when he is in the middle of completing the most mundane of tasks, driving around in the city, or even when he spends time with his son. As disturbing as his pieces may be, their relevance and importance cannot be discounted at any point, considering how they are forcing people to question life and come to terms with its transient nature.
Text By Priyanka Menon
Photographs Courtesy Fuma Contemporary Tokyo